How to Choose an e-Reader
There's been a great deal of upheaval in the ebook reader market following the launch of Apple's iPad, which can be used as an ebook reader and comes with its own readily accessible electronic bookstore. While some claimed the iPad would be the end of dedicated ebook readers, ebook readers offer two features that will keep them afloat: better price and readability under a broader range of reading conditions.
Amazon's Kindle is the top-selling ebook reader and today is offered in three versions. The least expensive is the 6-inch screen, WiFi-only Kindle, priced at $139. It's lighter than a paperback and thinner than a magazine, so one-handed reading is comfortable for most. It can be used continuously for up to three weeks on one charge. Unlike the iPad's LCD screen, the Kindle and other dedicated ereaders use e-ink technology designed to mimic the non-reflective surface of a newspaper. You can read outdoors without the sun's glare interfering with the display.
This model will hold about 3,500 books.
All of the ebooks purchased from Amazon are duplicated in an online account, so you can re-download a book at any time free of charge in the event you lose the book file on your ereader or the device is lost. To download books, you must have access to WiFi, either through a wireless router at home or a WiFi hotspot like those found for free at all Starbucks locations.
The second Kindle ereader adds 3G connectivity on top of WiFi for an additional way to access the Amazon's bookstore; otherwise these two Kindles are the same. The 3G service is used by most cellphones. But unlike cellphones and the iPad, 3G access is free on the Kindle. You'll pay an extra $50 for this model, but if you plan to use the device in unpopulated locations, you will be assured of a connection to the Amazon store.
The third Kindle is the DX, Amazon's largest with a 9.7–inch display. It was designed to accommodate the larger size of newspapers and textbooks, but it's had a lukewarm reception in the market because of its higher price of $379. The DX is available with WiFi and global 3G, with coverage throughout Europe, Japan, Indonesia, and some parts of Australia, Africa and South America.
Barnes and Noble launched their Nook ereader last holiday season, and was the first manufacturer to drop its price, causing Amazon and Sony to follow suit. Like the Kindle, the Nook comes in a WiFi only version and a 3G plus WiFi version. The first is available for $149 and the second for $199. The extra $10 over the Kindle will buy a second, smaller LCD screen on the device for full color browsing of the bookstore, while the e-ink screen is devoted to reading text.
Barnes and Noble is the only ebook provider that supports lending books to friends for free. Nook users can "lend" a file to a friend that will be accessible for 14 days. The friend must have the Nook software (not the Nook itself) that's available at no charge, but the software can be installed on a computer or other portable device. The Nook can store up to 1,500 ebooks. Storage can be expanded by adding a memory card that can be inserted into the Nook.
Sony also makes ereaders, and is due to update its devices in the coming weeks. The screens will be smaller than the Kindle and the Nook, measuring 5-inches and 6-inches, but rumors indicate the larger Sony model will have wireless connectivity, so you don't have to plug it into a computer to download books, and increased storage comparable to its competition.
As you might expect, ebooks are usually less expensive than their paper counterparts, especially compared to new hardback books. Kindle ebooks from Amazon and Nook ebooks from Barnes and Noble were offered at equal prices. Based on a sampling of New York Times bestsellers, prices ranged from about $7 to $13.
Ebooks are available from most public libraries at no charge. These books can be read on any device compatible with the EPUB format, which includes Nook, Sony and both Windows and Mac computers. However, Amazon uses its own proprietary format, so the Kindle will not open ebooks in the EBPUB format.
Analysts have predicted Amazon will cut its price for the WiFi Kindle to $99 and the 3G version to $149 before the holidays. Compared to the lowest priced $500 iPad, a Kindle could be the gift of the season.